Thursday, June 21, 2007

I want to burn all car window flags, and maybe the cars and people attached to them too. It was one thing to visit my parents in Flint during the NHL playoffs a few years ago and see every third car adorned with a Red Wings flag. Then they spread to every town and sport, as the official emblem of the bandwagoning fan. But, what is with having American car window flags? If you have one of these, I would appreciate it if you'd let me know what bandwagon you're jumping on. The Olympics have lost some of their lustre, but did i manage to miss one completely? What are we supposed to be cheering for? Did we win something recently? Is this about the war? Are we winning that? Is there another war I don't know about where intelligent, well prepared, honest, and measured leadership is bringing us victory along with worldwide appreciation and even adoration?
I have never understood the place of the flag in the American imagination. Actually, I understand it but refuse to admit it. I don't want to think so badly of my fellow citizens. A flag, regardless of which one, is a colorful piece of cloth or new hightech sail fabric or paper or plastic wrap. Period. Neither George Washington or Abraham Lincoln were reincarnated as a flag. The flag didn't register voters in Alabama, kill a single person at Mai Lai, hold it's fire till it saw the whites of their eyes, liberate Buchenwald, dance at the Savoy Ballroom, celebrate the Miracle on Ice, or jump out of a building on October 24, 1929. And your dad, grandad, Latino boy toy (unlike Ken Burns, I am prepared to recognize the Latino community), or doorman didn't die for the flag. Soldiers don't fight for a flag. It's a flag for God sakes. It's a symbol. It has no significance of it's own. Just like Rosa Parks, it's role and impact are completely distorted and over hyped. It's a symbol. It's importance comes only through what it symbolizes. The American flag symbolizes the Revolutionary War, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the right to vote, and, yes, soldiers who have fought and died for the country--but only along with every other American who has sacrificed something for this country or for that matter just breathed in air while possessing an American passport. These things, and many more that are unmentioned, are what is important and what should be protected. The flag is just a pretty thing. A pretty symbol. A pretty symbol that can be burned, stepped on, torn, used as toilet paper, thrown in a wood chipper, or used as part of a homemade slip n' slide. Besides, not allowing the destruction of this symbol as a form of protest contradicts and undermines some of the most important ideas, institutions, and experiences which give the flag meaning in the first place.
So, I'm not predisposed to look kindly on overly enthusiastic flag waving. And then when we're involved in such a fiasco of a war, it seems especially inappropriate to act as if said war is really a sporting event. I know people packed picnic baskets and went out to watch some Civil War battles, but that seems a bit different. If you want to pack a picnic basket and head off for Baghdad, though, do be my guest. Plus, there are people who think they are fulfilling some patriotic duty by flying the flag. If you want to be a patriot, try voting, working in a campaign, asserting your beliefs in some forum, even if it is only a neighborhood barbecue. If you want to root for something, try football.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Need evidence that the United States is in dire straits? How about the following words coming from a presidential candidate: "want a president who doesn't believe in God, there's probably plenty of choices. But if I'm selected as president of this country, they'll have one who believes in those words that God did create." "If anybody wants to believe that they are the descendants of a primate, they are certainly welcome to do it." When asked whether he believed that the world was created in six days, the candidate in question (Mike Huckabee) said "I don't know ... Whether God did it in six days or whether he did it in six days that represented periods of time, he did it. And that's what's important." Huckabee thought the questions about evolution were unfair: "It's interesting that that question would even be asked of somebody running for president. I'm not planning on writing the curriculum for an eighth-grade science book. I'm asking for the opportunity to be president of the United States." So what is he saying? Do we require more of those who write textbooks than our presidents? Given the last few presidents, it might be a good idea to have more qualified people writing textbooks. It would also be nice, however, to have a president who recognizes a few of the scientific accomplishments of the last two centuries. Why is denying evolution any different than denying the existence of the holocaust? Whatever its guise, the willful denial of historical fact is dangerous. Huckabee is unlikely to come close to winning the Republican nomination, but he was elected Governor (albeit of Arkansas). Any candidate who espouses such positions on evolution is either stupid beyond belief, or cynically capitalizing on the stupidity, narrow mindedness, and ignorance of others. Those who allow the impression that they don't disagree to circulate aren't any better, and regardless of how much time they spent as a prisoner of war, they aren't demonstrating courage.
Much in life falls into the grey zone, but not everything. The mechanics of evolution aren't completely clear, and neither is its ultimate starting point. Its existence, however, is beyond question. It is also beyond question that the world was not created in six days. There is much in this world to be unsure about, but this isn't an example. Anyone who denies it simply isn't looking at scientific fact, and they aren't applying reason, which brings us to the fundamental problem here and for America. The denial of reason has become frighteningly popular. On a whole group of issues Americans are saying something to the effect of: "This is what I believe, I don't give a damn about evidence or other arguments, I know I'm right." This is what our President and/or his advisers have done for the better (or worse) part of two terms. This is a position that it is impossible to argue with and yet impossible to ignore. Anyone who doesn't agree with this approach that doesn't value evidence, debate, or analysis should be very afraid for themselves and for their country.